US warns Turkey: Nothing more to negotiate until pastor Brunson is freed

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John Bolton (L) and Serdar Kilic

President Donald Trump’s top national security aide warned Turkey’s ambassador on Monday that the US has nothing further to negotiate until a detained American pastor is freed, according to two people familiar with the matter, signaling that a standoff between the countries will continue as Turkey’s financial meltdown spreads to emerging markets, Bloomberg reported.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton delivered that message to Ambassador Serdar Kılıçin Washington, according to the two people, who requested anonymity to discuss the encounter. The White House said Kılıç had requested the meeting, which centered on the Ankara government’s detention of an American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson. Turkey’s failure to free Brunson has become the latest conflict between the two nations.

The meeting at the White House marked the first encounter announced between senior officials from the two governments since President Trump on Friday ordered a doubling of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports. The Trump administration has no bargaining proposals on the negotiating table at the moment, the two people said, and no progress was made during the meeting with Kılıç.

Tensions between the two NATO allies have intensified amid a dispute over the detention of Brunson, whose cause has been championed by Vice President Mike Pence. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has signaled defiance, saying the US “cannot tame” his country with threats and warning that Trump was risking the loss of a strategic ally.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a two-sentence statement announcing the meeting that Bolton and Kılıçtalked about Brunson, who the Turkish government has accused of espionage and terrorism related to a 2016 failed coup attempt, “and the state of the U.S.-Turkey relationship.”

Brunson, who has worked for more than two decades at a church in İzmir province in western Turkey, was placed under house arrest last month, ending a period of more than 18 months in pretrial detention on charges of terrorism and espionage. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison.

The pastor was arrested following the failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016. He is charged with collaborating with groups including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement, accused by the government of orchestrating the abortive putsch, an allegation the group strongly denies.

Since at least last week, the US has signaled it had little to discuss with Turkey until Brunson is freed. A US deadline for that to occur by last Wednesday passed without action from Ankara.

“The progress that we want to be made is to have Pastor Brunson return home,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Aug 9. “And I’ll leave it at that.”

Trump administration officials said the US has no bargaining proposals on the negotiating table at the moment and that no progress was made during the meeting with Kılıç.

Trump unexpectedly announced plans to double tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum last week, putting further pressure on the country’s economy and markets. Turkey’s lira has weakened into record territory as investors grow anxious about Erdoğan’s economic policies.

The lira led losses among global peers after the nation’s first steps to bolster the financial system were seen by some analysts as insufficient to protect markets. As Erdoğanlashed out at the US, took higher rates off the table and said he wouldn’t accept an international bailout, traders pushed down Turkish assets in a selloff that spilled over to other developing countries.

Trump’s decision to boost tariffs followed sanctions imposed by the US earlier this month on Turkey’s justice and interior ministers. The Turkish currency has lost about a quarter of its value against the dollar since Washington sanctioned the ministers.

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